Paris is not used to having piles of garbage. In recent days the picture in Paris is somewhat different. Large piles of rubbish lie on the pavements, with residents complaining about the situation and the necessary reports of “public health risks being recorded”.
The reason lies in the fact that since March 6 the cleaning workers of the municipality of Paris and of the private companies that have waste collection contracts, as well as the three waste treatment (incineration) plants that serve Paris, which anyway or else they have strike guards.
This includes the incineration plant in Yvry-sur-Seine, the largest in Europe. There, part of the factory employees are on strike, while its entrance is blocked by the street cleaners and drivers of the Paris Municipality.
Cleaning and waste management workers insist that they die earlier than the rest
Cleaning and waste management workers emphasize that their profession should indeed be included in the heavy and unhealthy ones. They argue that they experience more health problems than other industries and that they die earlier.
Experts seem to agree with them, underlining that the issue is not just where the general retirement limit will reach, since in this sector the problem recorded is the inability to work from one point onwards due to accumulated health problems.
The sector has once again made large mobilizations. The occupation of the factory in 2010 lasted 21 days and was again related to an insurance reform. Striking is not an easy thing, as it is not a particularly well-paid industry. Each day costs the strikers around 65 euros, while their monthly salary is 1800-2000 euros.
On Monday, March 13, 5,600 tons of garbage had already been collected on the streets of Paris. With the three processing and incineration plants surrounded by strike guards, all that’s left is to collect some trash that’s just being transported to the transfer stations.
However, they seem determined to continue the protests until March 20 at least based on the decision of their general assembly. The government, on the other hand, accuses the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, who has declared solidarity with the movement, for inaction.
Social security “mother of all battles”
Cleaning workers are not the only ones in France to mobilize. In any case, the social security system is a particularly charged issue for French society. It is this aspect of state functioning that sums up what we usually describe as the ‘welfare state’.
At the same time, work in cleaning, in transshipment stations, in processing factories is particularly stressful for health. It is done in difficult conditions and involves exposure to toxic substances, with factories considered to be sites subject to the “Sevezo Directive”. The National Institute for Safety Research and for the Prevention of Occupational Accidents and Occupational Diseases in their research had already found increased mortality in this occupational category. However, many prefer the stability of employment despite the relatively low pay and the schedule that leaves the afternoons free.
A difficult moment for Emmanuel Macron
In any case, the large mobilizations are a real test for Emmanuel Macron. Insurance was not among his priorities. In fact, his pollsters had pointed out before the election that voters in general did not want such a reform. After all, even now polls show that the great majority of citizens remain against the reform of the insurance system.
Macron himself managed to pass the Senate test on the bill. However, there is also the Parliament and of course there is always the question of whether Macron will want to make use of article 49.3 of the Constitution, which effectively allows the government to bypass the National Assembly, to pass an important piece of legislation, a move that is always seen as the ultimate display of authoritarianism .
However, this does not solve the real problem of the substantial legitimacy that the French government has in relation to insurance in the eyes of French society. Especially when we must not forget the way Macron won the election: in the first round he got a particularly low percentage for a sitting president and won the second round basically because he had Marine Le Pen against him and could therefore blackmail the voters with the threat of the return of the extreme right. In the parliamentary elections his party did not do particularly well, it was unable to gather a clear majority and a minority government was effectively formed.
All this in turn shows the problem currently facing the French political system, which is precisely a social explosion with enough weight, that a few years after the “yellow vests” comes to underline that a large part of society feels that they are falling apart critical aspects of the “social contract” and treats the government with particular distrust. And that means a rift that can hardly be closed.